God revealed himself first to a man, but it is through woman that mankind now exists, and with progressive revelation brings us Jesus for the fulfilment of His blessing. For too long, Christians have read the Bible stories without grasping the humanity of the characters especially the women in these real-life events.
Our postmodern views of history often peers into Biblical womanhood without a contextualised understanding of Near Eastern custom of the time. Faith in God is a core facet of the Biblical families especially during the Patriarchal Ages such as Abraham and Moses.
Family men of the Bible
Even while polygamy and a world fraught with violence was somewhat common practice, Biblical men of the Patriarchal Ages were affectionate beings. Abraham was a delicate and loving family man devoted to his wife Sarah; Jacob not counting the many years of tough servitude for Rachel; and the story of Joseph being one of parental tenderness is unrivalled.
Moses gives out God’s laws that provide the basis for the Judeo-Christian ethic that has ultimately raised the status of women to this very day. In provision guidelines for the institution of the family, the Jewish custom of granting the mother equal standing in the household as the father was countercultural to the practices of other Near Eastern cultures and even the Romans where the male held control over life and death.
It was also through the Jewish laws that women captured in battle were to have their chastity respected and not to be merely used for the gratification of men. Likewise, protections for multiple wives including maintaining an equal level of provision for each woman were put into place which set the society onto a trajectory for the abolition of polygamy.
Furthermore, equality between men and women in the laws of Moses were against the status quo of the cultural surroundings. Men were punished for improper sexual relations, and divorce although permissible was regulated to ensure that the wife was not abandoned to her own devices without due reason.
The elevation of women in the Bible
The Bible not only provides the basis of how women should be treated fairly but also shows the elevation of women in sacred history. An often-overlooked fact is that Jewish women also held high places in being prophetesses, leaders, and teachers.
We know that most of the Jewish influencers were also wives, and that having a motherly character was something valued even in public life. In Judges chapter 5 verse 7 it is written “Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel”. It is important to recognise the delicate and multi-faceted role that women can be as a wife, mother, prophetess, leader, inspirer and more concurrently.
A praying mother at home would almost certainly be seen as newsworthy today. But it was through prayer and commitment to God that Hannah showed, as well as in nurturing Samuel, that Israel received one of its most significant Judges. Hannah’s story highlights the strength of a woman’s faith in birthing a leader for God’s people.
The person giving birth to the world’s Saviour is no other than a Judean woman. Mary, unlike no other, who was highly favoured and chosen by God to be the educator, carer, and the one most near to Christ during the majority of His earthly years ought not to be overlooked by modern Christian traditions.
Mary the mother of Jesus does not hold significant prominence in protestant denominations but is a Biblical character whose life story is one that ought to have endurance for Christians today. She never sought to be a public influencer but yet in the course of being a mother, she passed on her affectionate love to her Son with the energy befitting in response to every occasion.
Of utmost importance
Even though Mary appears little among the Gospels, her life behind the scenes was of utmost importance. We may not be calling on Jesus through His mother, but we can rejoice in the fact that she has set out a life’s example for the Church in grappling with the reality of the Saviour of the world.
Women in sacred history from Eve to Sarah the princess in the Patriarchal Age, to Deborah the destroyer of the National Period, to Mary the mother of Jesus in the Christian era and the many others both named and unnamed in the Bible, play a great role, not only in showing us motherhood, but ultimately the often-overlooked part of God’s good creation.
For too long, women have been forgotten and held to unfair comparisons with men that obscures the same human nature of flesh and blood both in the wider world and within our Church communities. It is time that we reflect on the role of women in our society and afford all whom have been created in God’s image the dignified celebration and recognition of their humanity.
This article first published in Christian Today Australia on Wednesday 29 March 2021.